Appreciating Inequality: Providing Thickness to Discourses of the Powerless

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Hakushi HAMAOKA, Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
Power imbalances that are ubiquitous in our society are irremediable not only because of uneven distribution of a variety of resources but also because of our collective preference for tidy and well-organized reality to which each of us mostly inadvertently ascribes particular evaluative/moral appropriateness or simply certain positive values. The sociology of language is expected to address the struggles for a better world in ways that take into account the irremediableness of power imbalances despite (or because of) each one’s innate moral concerns.

By presenting a case in which employees of a bankrupted company posted messages about their uncertain future and anxieties on an Internet discussion forum (or a message board), this paper demonstrates that the analyses of mundane discursive practices can elucidate (1) how particular power relations are defined and sustained through actors’ intricately intertwining concerns about evaluative/moral appropriateness, the factual/substantive understandings and the contextual relevance of their thoughts and deeds, (2) that each one is practicing ethics that keeps conversations going by accepting others’ interpreting one’s utterances in their own ways, and (3) that the power of words are significant because readers read their respective experiences into others’ words in order to make better sense of reality.

Based on the analyses, this paper argues that the sociology of language can be re-oriented towards how researchers and their subjects alike can appreciate, rather than solve, power imbalances by paying more attention to each one’s true but often ineffable sense of evaluative/moral appropriateness at a particular point in time and space. It will do so by diversifying possible alternative ways of configuring/re-figuring reality, or simply, plots. Diversifying plots engages researchers in reading their subjects’ moral sentiments as well as substantive and contextual aspects of reality, and in writing in ways that reveal their implicit and context-specific assumptions and principles.